Before this season, Phil Irwin’s most recent relief appearance came in 2012. Scheduled to double-team, or “piggyback,” an outing with a rehabilitating Jeff Karstens, Irwin would take over when Karstens had exhausted his allotted 90 pitches.
“He goes seven,” Irwin said with a laugh. “I get two innings for my start day. It was really good, though. I threw really well.”
Irwin again found success in the bullpen this season while in the minors. The Pirates called up this right-hander Tuesday from Class AAA Indianapolis hoping that success can translate to the majors and add to a bullpen that covered 72⁄3 innings Monday night in an extra-inning game. Left-hander Jeff Locke, who spot-started Monday, was optioned back to Indianapolis.
Irwin, 27, a starter for most of his professional career, made two starts for Indianapolis this season but allowed 11 runs in six innings combined. After moving to the bullpen, his performance improved. He has allowed one run in his past 91⁄3 innings in relief.
“I just pretty much face each hitter once,” Irwin said. “I just throw exactly what I want to throw to them. The mentality is a lot more aggressive and more to my strengths rather than trying to mix it up.”
Irwin made his major league debut in April 2013, but his elbow began bothering him soon after and he had surgery to move the ulnar nerve in his right elbow. Elbow pain flared up again in spring training and prevented him, he said, from pitching as many innings in spring training as he would have liked.
“It may have had something to do with it, maybe not,” Irwin said. “I figured it out. I’m glad that it all happened early instead of late.”
Irwin was the only Class AAA pitcher on the 40-man roster available for the Pirates to call up. Casey Sadler and Brandon Cumpton recently were sent down and had not spent 10 days on optional assignment, meaning they couldn’t be recalled unless someone on the major league roster went on the disabled list. Duke Welker went on the minor league disabled list Monday.
The addition of Irwin gave the Pirates four starters and eight relievers, a balance manager Clint Hurdle said the team will maintain for the near future. Scheduled days off in the coming weeks mean they do not need a fifth starter for a while.
“[The relievers] could probably use an opportunity to get their legs back under them if it presents itself,” Hurdle said.
Irwin has no warm-up routine in the bullpen and said he is still adjusting to the sporadic schedule rather than pitching every fifth day.
“You get a lot more mentally tough in the bullpen,” he said. “Fighting your regular aches and pains, you got to be ready to go whenever the phone rings.”
Revisiting the brawl
Russell Martin and Travis Snider had hearings via videoconference for their appeals of the suspensions resulting from the fight between the Pirates and Milwaukee Brewers April 20, Hurdle said.
The results of the appeals were unclear as of Tuesday night. Snider received a two-game suspension, Martin one game and both were fined for their involvement in the fight.
Bill Brink: firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @BrinkPG.